7-year-old writes goodbye message to her parents on arm during school lockdown

A Delaware mom said seeing the words left her feeling "punched in the gut."

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/ Source: TODAY
By Allison Slater Tate

Delaware mom Shelley Harrison Reed knew something was up when she received a flurry of notifications from the Facebook page for parents at her children's New Castle County school: The school was on lockdown as the result of a bomb threat received by a school secretary.

Police responded, the buildings were checked and secured, and the children went on with their school day. "I felt that the school handled it very well," said Reed.

When she picked up son Sean, 10, and daughter Vanessa, 7, from the school bus stop that afternoon, Reed asked them about the lockdown. Though both have participated in drills, this was their first "official" lockdown, Reed told TODAY Parents. At the time, neither child seemed upset. They had been in different buildings, and each told their mom how the lockdown went in their particular classroom.

It wasn't until a bit later that Reed noticed her daughter's arm. In purple marker, Vanessa had scrawled "Love Mom and Dad" across her forearm — "In case the bad guy got to us and I got killed, you and Daddy would know that I love you," Vanessa explained to her mom, and she started to cry. Reed cried with her.

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It felt like a punch in the gut, Reed said. "I didn't have words. I hugged her and squeezed her probably harder than I ever have and I tried to reassure her that she's safe."

When Reed's husband Jeff came home that night, he first thought his daughter had been playing around with markers with her friends. When he jokingly asked her what she had done to her arm, his daughter burst into tears and gave him "a giant hug," he told TODAY Parents.

"I teared up, because I'm 'Daddy," he said. "I am the one who keeps her safe. She's Daddy's girl. That was a moment where I realized I had no control over her safety outside of my home.

"I make sure she doesn't get out of the car and run through a parking lot, that she always walks on the side of the sidewalk farthest from the road, that she always holds my hand," he said. "I do all those strong Daddy things, and that day, she literally thought she was going to die and she wrote on herself to tell her she loved us."

Jeff and Shelley Harrison Reed with their children Sean, 10, and Vanessa, 7.Shelley Harrison Reed / Shelley Harrison Reed

Jeff said that their son Sean also shared that during the lockdown, he had been distressed about how to get to his sister and help keep her safe. "This is bittersweet for me, because I've got great kids," said Jeff. "They love us and each other."

Reed posted a picture of Vanessa's arm and the explanation behind it on her Facebook page. The post hit a nerve; it quickly went viral and has been shared more than 90,000 times on Facebook in a week.

Though some commenters assumed Reed had a political motivation for sharing the picture, Reed said she was only posting as a mom facing a difficult parenting experience. "I didn't have a message. I was simply sharing my raw emotional moment with my friends in hopes that it wasn't the only one that day who was feeling that way," she said. "It certainly wasn't for any political agenda."

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Though Vanessa is acting "like her normal self," her mom said, she did express fear the day after the lockdown when they were waiting at the bus stop for the morning bus. "She suddenly asked, 'Mommy, what if the bad guy comes back today?' so she is obviously harboring some sense of fear, subconsciously or not," said Reed.

Despite her dismay about her children's experience, Reed said this is simply a reality for parents now. "I'm not one who can homeschool, and I don't want to shelter my kid from the world, so to speak," she said. "I am a believer in public schools, and I think this is a new day and age that we're experiencing, and all we can do is pray."